JIM CHALMERS MP
MEMBER FOR RANKIN
THURSDAY, 2 SEPTEMBER 2021
SUBJECTS: National Accounts; Australia’s economy slowing last quarter and shrinking this quarter because of Scott Morrison’s failures on vaccines and quarantine; National plan, borders and vaccinations.
FRAN KELLY, HOST: Jim Chalmers is the Shadow Treasurer. Jim Chalmers, welcome back to Breakfast.
JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW TREASURER: Thanks very much, Fran.
KELLY: If the economy does end up plunging back into recession after the next quarter and the quarter after that, can we blame the Labor states, Queensland and WA, for that? Is that what this is heading to?
CHALMERS: I think primarily Fran, if we do find ourselves in that situation, it'll be as a consequence of lockdowns made necessary by the Prime Minister's failures on vaccinations and quarantine primarily. I think a lot of the concerns that people are reflecting right around Australia all go back in one way or another to those two failures. It's why the economy slowed in the June quarter. It's why it's shrinking in the September quarter. And until or unless the Prime Minister gets his act together on that, the recovery will take longer, and it will take longer for Australia to open up.
KELLY: Okay, but if the Government gets his act together to quote you on vaccinations and the vaccination rollout goes as anticipated once we get the supply in over the next two months. We have this national plan but in your home state of Queensland the Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk says she'll stand strong on border closures quote "until I get every child vaccinated". Now, there is no vaccine in the world yet approved for under twelves. Does the Government have a point when it says the Queensland Premier is scaremongering and misleading people about the impact of COVID on small children, is this a reasonable position by the state Premier in your view?
CHALMERS: I think she's reflecting a lot of concern that people have about the vaccination of our kids. I mean before we even get to little kids under twelve, we don't have a national plan for kids twelve to fifteen. That's one of the big gaps in what the Federal Government has been saying. If the health experts or the Federal Government can give parents of younger kids, I'm one of them Fran, if they can give us some comfort, then that's a good thing as well.
KELLY: No one can give you comfort for kids under twelve, that's the point at the moment. There is not a vaccine in the world. Are you saying that the Queensland Premier is correct that despite what the national plan says, based on the Doherty modelling, which is when we reach 80% of the adult population that states should not open up?
CHALMERS: The Premier can speak for herself, Fran.
KELLY: What do you think though?
CHALMERS: I'm saying that even before we get to those younger kids there's still no plan, there's still nothing from the Prime Minister or the Health Minister federally, to tell us how we're even going to get the twelve to fifteens vaccinated before we even get to the little kids. The Premier can speak for herself. The point that I'm making is that's one of the big gaps in the national plan. We support the national plan, we want to see Australia opened up, nobody wants to see the place locked-down longer than is necessary, it's causing all this social dislocation and all this economic damage. I'm speaking to you from Hastings Street in Noosa on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland. And what the local businesses here know is they desperately need Australia to open up in order for their businesses to succeed. But worse than that, worse damage than border closures, is if the virus runs rampant in our communities. And so we need the place to open up. When it comes to the national plan, we support the national plan. We've said that repeatedly. But even the Doherty report says in order to open up safely and confidently, we need to get the tracking, and tracing, and isolating, and quarantine right. We need to make sure the hospitals can cope. We need to make sure that groups aren't left behind. Those are the things that are conditions on opening up.
KELLY: But that's not what the Queensland Premier is saying. So you say you support the national plan, Josh Frydenberg insists that when we get to 80% vaccination of adult Australians, that is the national plan, that's the Doherty modelling the states have agreed on, then the borders should reopen. That is not the position we heard there of the Queensland Premier. So if you say you support the national plan, are you supporting the Labor Premier of Queensland or the Labor Premier of WA Mark McGowan when he says the Morrison Governments on a mission to bring COVID into WA and infect our public. Where does Labor's support lie?
CHALMERS: It's one in the same Fran, to say that we want to see the place open up. In order for that to happen safely and confidently we need to get the systems right, including quarantine, including contact tracing. All of these systems need to be in place. Our hospitals need to be able to cope. All of these things are prerequisites. They need to be happening, working effectively, in order for us to open up safely and confidently. And so we think that's where the Prime Minister's focus should lie. Instead, he's deliberately creating this climate of conflict because that gives him the best chance to distract people from his own failures on vaccines and quarantine. If he got that right we could open up with more confidence and we could get the economy back on track. Our economy is growing more slowly than the US, and the UK, and the OECD average. It's shrinking in the current quarter that we're in now. For too many Australians it already feels like a recession. And more or less all of those issues can be sheeted home in one way or another to the Prime Minister's failure to do his job, before we even get to the Premiers.
KELLY: On the economy, there's clearly worse to come. We're in positive growth in the June quarter, that surprised on the upside. Worse to come clearly, once the full impact of the current lockdowns hit the economy. How bad could the September quarter be and is a recession now unavoidable?
CHALMERS: Economists expect, they're as one - economists are not always as one - but they all agree that the September quarter will be really bad as a consequence of the lockdowns which are made necessary by those failures on vaccines and quarantine. It remains to be seen what the December quarter looks like. We hope that the economy can get back on track sooner rather than later, it remains to be seen. I think for a lot of people it already feels like a recession. Most of the country's in lockdown. Small businesses are doing it tough. Many of them are going without support at the same time as the Treasurer sprays money around on businesses that didn't need JobKeeper. And so there are a lot of issues in our economy which are more or less being left unaddressed. We all want the place to recover strongly, we want to recover the right way, but the recovery is hostage to incompetence on vaccines and quarantine. Until we get those two things right, or until the Prime Minister does, then the recovery will be weaker then it should be.
KELLY: Can I ask about JobKeeper just before we run out of time. We've got these new figures showing that about 35,000 firms that received JobKeeper last year doubled or even tripled their turnover during the pandemic. 80,000 firms increased turnover. The Government won't try and claw back this money, but without JobKeeper some of these firms would have lost money and so they would have shed employees wouldn't the? Don't we want the companies to be in the in the black not in the red?
CHALMERS: Fran, these companies did not need JobKeeper. Something like $13 billion at least, Josh Frydenberg and Scott Morrison gave to businesses that didn't need it at the same time as they are telling some small businesses and working families that they couldn't afford to support them. At the same time, if you get a social security payment that needs to be repaid the Government will pursue you in some cases to the grave. And so I think people are rightly furious about this, $13 billion dollars of taxpayers money wasted on businesses that didn't need it at the same time as many other small businesses went without, at the same time as they’re hounding social security recipients. The Treasurer hasn't lifted a finger to recover a single dollar of this JobKeeper money that he wasted, it's the most wasteful program in the history of the Federation. And what's particularly galling about it is that JobKeeper is a good idea, that's very important in the economy, has the capacity to do so much good, but it's been mangled by the Treasurer's incompetence.
KELLY: We're out of time, Jim Chalmers, but just tell me briefly if Labor won the next election, would you try and get this money back?
CHALMERS: Well, it remains to see how much of it will be left, Fran. I mean, we're talking about $13 billion, a tiny fraction of it has been recovered. This Government should take steps in the interim, before the election, to see what else could be recovered.
KELLY: Jim Chalmers, thanks for joining us.
CHALMERS: Thank you, Fran.